The beginning of sledging even before the first ball of the Ashes is bowled has been going on for decades now. The Australians, especially, are known to play on the mind of the opposition and that eventually gives them an edge on the field. Their sportsmanship’s culture allows them to have a nasty verbal fight with an opponent player followed by cleaning it with a quick can of cool beer after the end of play. The nastiness gets washed away and you remain chill, while the incident would have affected the opponent to a certain extent, for sure. Even the Australian crowd backs their players in this case; it is believed in the country that on-field fights are a mere display of masculinity, its well in the limits of the spirit of the game and its healthy entertainment.
This has been the country’s mentality for years now and which is why Australia has never been a very like-able country among the cricket enthusiasts. Since I’m an Indian, I have grown up around the people who have never hesitated to express their bitterness for the Australian cricket team. Be it the Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting or the Michael Clarke era, all of these eras’ cricketers have quite a huge amount of haters around the world. But, did that matter to them? No. The cricketers of those generations just had different methods, which irked the world but then those methods earned them immense success in the game, so Ponting, Clarke, Waugh and Co did not bother about their image of being the “bad boys” in cricket.
During the period 1999 and 2007, the Australians were termed invincible. Three back-to-back World Cup titles, dominating in the Test arena, winning matches from no-where and more signification, they maintained their never dying spirit (even if the spirit was not favoured by many), that allowed them to get going.
They were natural ‘sledgers’
The nature of aggression and being hard-heart came naturally to the likes of Shane Warne, Ponting, Andrew Symonds, Clarke and Brad Haddin among the other Australian cricketers who were famous for their unfair antics on the field. Not only did they find themselves in verbal spats but also went against the spirit of the game on several occasions. They appealed for anything despite knowing the catch taken was not clean; remember the Sydney Test 2008 when Ganguly was given out after Clarke’s appeal was accepted by the umpire? In reality, even the skipper Ponting and Clarke knew the latter had not taken the catch clean in the first slip. Because these chaps knew only one mode of expertise in cricket – aggression, they went ahead of dubious tactics without any guilt.
[fve] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIrEdVSA_UM [/fve]
Australians stood at the top where skills of sledging were concerned. They were so cold-blooded about taking on the mind of an opponent player that there was no word called sympathy in their dictionary. Marcus Trescothick, who was suffering from stress-related issues, was also not spared by the Australians. The Englishman had to fly back home from tours of India and Australia in 2006 as he was fighting depression. On the other hand, showing no consolation towards him, Australian cricketer Stuart Law said, “One minute he’s got a runny nose, then he’s got a sore leg, then he’s got personal problems. Who knows what to believe.” That followed Trescothick’s exit from international cricket.
[fve] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFD01-KjHXY [/fve]
There were times when they did get back their own taste of medicine in sledging. During an Ashes Test, when England cricketer Upon Ormond arrived at the crease, Mark Waugh said, “F**k me, look who it is. Mate, what are you doing out here? There’s no way you’re good enough to play for England.” To which, Ormond replied: “Maybe not, but at least I’m the best player in my family.” Former Indian Captain Sunil Gavaskar had used the Cowdrey Memorial lecture at Lord’s to question Australia’s their poor sportsmanship. However, these incidents never affected the thick skin Australians.
[fve] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOd9s66KAaA [/fve]
When Australia faced the ruthless Ashes defeat of the 21st century in 2005, many former Australian players lashed at the team members for their non-aggressive approach and softness in the series.
The need for the bad boy image
Merv Hughes, who was remembered for his huge structure, drinking habits and someone who would be the most obnoxious player on the field but he would also be the one who would take the same opponent, with whom he got had got involved in a verbal spat, out for a beer and give out a message that what happens on the field, remains there – no personal harsh feelings. Ahead of the Ashes 2006, he spoke to the media regarding Australia’s loss in 2005.
[fve] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mea0N8BOiVs [/fve]
“Imagine if Shane Warne and Kevin Pietersen didn’t have that friendship. Who knows then what would have happened. What if Warne had told Pietersen: ‘Get out of my sight, you prat, I’ve never liked you.” All he meant was, by being harsh and rude, you tend to shake the opponent’s morale and that certainly hinders their performance. Cricketers are human too with the same human-like feelings, there does come a point that can break them too and banging on that point is what Australia must do. It does not matter even if they have to go an evil way.
Coming to the current Australian Test team; the boys are in Brisbane, playing the first Test of Ashes 2017-18. Give a quick look around in the dressing room and you will not find a single face that was capable of giving you a nightmare. Apart from childish brain fades, there have been no controversies which have involved these guys in the recent times. While the previous Australian teams were never short of controversial ‘men,’ From controversial skippers like Ponting, vicious bowlers like Warne and some excellent sledgers like Glenn McGrath, Steve Waugh, Merv Hughes and Dennis Lillee, Australians have ruled the world of sledging.
Smith & Co – not the traditional Aussie bad boys unit
Things got worse when single-handedly Virat Kohl got under the skin of an entire nation of Australia. One cannot avoid but admit that it was humiliating because he has begun to master the art of sledging, a subject in which Australia have been topping for decades now. During Australia’s tour of India earlier this year, with his volatile press conferences and fitting replies to Australians’ every tactic on the field resulted into noticeable anger in the Australian media and fans on the social media. All of a sudden, it were these Australians were on the receiving end of tough looks and verbal spats quite consistently.
Australians were have always carried an image of being a bad boy who never hesitated to display rude behaviour.
However, at the end of the India tour, it was Kohli who signed off the tour with an extremely cold statement.
“No, it has changed for sure. I thought that was the case but it has changed for sure. As I said in the heat of the battle, you want to be competitive but yeah I have been proven wrong. The thing I said before the first Test, I have certainly been proven wrong and you won’t hear me say that ever again,” when an Australian reporter asked him if he still will be friends with Smith and Co off the field.
And, all of a sudden, while Smith is not even close to resembling Ponting based on the latter’s tactics, Kohli seems to be walking in the footsteps of the former Aussie captain.
There is one player in the current Australian side, David Warner, who has shown old signs of Australian aggression on the field. But, after a few off and on field altercations, even he has toned down. Just before the start of the Ashes, he suggested that the team will have to dig out the sheer hatred they have for England to bring the best out of them in the series. That statement did not go out well but Warner defended it well that all he meant was to not let the aggression die just for the sake of being absolutely calm. Ashes is the not a platform where soft and calm behaviours would do good to either of the sides.
But, that was all from the Australian vice-captain. Over the years, he has kept that aggressive side of his away from him. While it has proven to be very fruitful for his form, it did not fair good for the team as he looked like their last chance to revive the old and lost aggression in the team.
Three days have ended in the first Test at Gabba, and not one verbal spat has been witnessed on the field. This is so-not-like the Australian teams we grew up watching and hearing about.